Ahmed Zaki Yamani: Wikis


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Ahmed Z. Yamani

2nd Saudi Oil Minister
In office
March 9, 1962 – October 5, 1986
Preceded by Abdullah al-Tariki
Succeeded by Hisham Nazer

Born June 30, 1930 (1930-06-30) (age 79)
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Nationality Saudi Arabian
Religion Islam

Ahmed Zaki Yamani (Arabic: أحمد زكي يماني‎; born 30 June 1930) is a Saudi Arabian politician who was Minister of Oil (Petroleum) and Mineral Resources from 1962 until 1986 for his country, and a minister in OPEC for 25 years.

With degrees from, among other places, New York University School of Law and Harvard Law School whilst also having a doctorate from the University of Exeter, Yamani became a close adviser to the Saudi government in 1958 and then became oil minister in 1962. He is best known for his role during the 1973 oil embargo, when he spurred OPEC to quadruple the price of crude oil. During that time, Yamani gained a colourful international reputation, known in the West for both diplomatic skills and characteristic goatee.

In December 1975, Yamani and several other OPEC ministers were taken hostage by notorious terrorist Carlos (the Jackal) in Vienna, Austria. He was later released after Carlos spent two days riding an airplane across the Middle East even though Carlos was ordered by his superiors to execute Yamani.

In October 1986, King Fahd dismissed Yamani. He also dismissed Dr. Abdulhady Hassan Taher, who was the founder of Petromin oils (now Aramco) and a major role in the Saudi oil history. The reasons for this include the Saudi government's insistence on setting their own oil policy. Another reason could have been their massive reign of power; since they were both running the Saudi petroleum industry. In 1990, he founded the Centre for Global Energy Studies, a market analysis group.


Early life

Ahmed Zaki Yamani was born in Mecca in 1930, one of three children. His father, Hassan Yamani, was a Qadi in the Hejaz and a respected scholar of Islamic law, acting as Grand Mufti in Indonesia and Malaysia. Yamani's grandfather was Grand Mufti in Turkey. The Yamani surname originates from Yemen where his paternal grandfathers came from.

At 17 the young Yamani went to Cairo University and earned a bachelor's degree in law (License en Droit) in 1951.

Inspired by his father and grandfather, Yamani planned to become a teacher but, on leaving University, took a job at the Ministry of Finance in Mecca, teaching Islamic law in his own time. Soon after, the Saudi government sent Yamani to New York University's Comparative Law Institute for non-American lawyers at NYU Law School and in 1955 he received a master's degree in Comparative Jurisprudence. Whilst at NYU, Yamani met his first wife, Laila, from Mosul, Iraq, and they married in the Brooklyn home of a Moroccan.

With the help of an NYU professor, Yamani spent the next year at Harvard Law School earning his second Master's in 1956 and then returned to the Ministry of Finance, joining the new Department of Zakat and Income Tax. The same year Yamani founded his own law firm sharing his name. Through the practice, perhaps the first organised firm in the country, Yamani undertook government work, strengthening ties with the petroleum office.

In 1956, Yamani's first daughter, Mai Yamani, was born, followed by second daughter Maha in 1959 and first son Hani in 1961. Mai Yamani later studied anthropology and is now an author and Research Fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs. Maha received a law degree from Cambridge and Hani a degree in business administration. Yamani married his second wife Tammam al-Anbar on 23 March 1975, and had five children. Faisal Born in 1976, Sharaf in 1977, Sarah in 1979, Arwa in 1981 and Ahmed in 1983.

In office

In late 1957 Yamani was invited by Faisal, then Crown Prince and Prime Minister, to work as a legal adviser to his office. However, when King Saud returned to full power in 1960 with the support of the Free Princes, Faisal resigned as Prime Minister and Yamani returned to his law practice and began teaching at the University of Riyadh. According to Yamani, King Saud then offered him the position of Oil Minister but this was declined. Several months later a new cabinet was formed with Faisal as Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister and in March 1962 the incumbent Oil Minister and founding father of OPEC, Abdallah Tariki, was replaced by Ahmed Zaki Yamani.

Although clearly distinguished from his fiery predecessor by both his supporters and detractors, Yamani had a common goal with Tariki in moving toward the nationalisation of Aramco, the operating oil company in the country. In 1962 The General Petroleum and Mineral Organization (Petromin) was established, designed to become the national oil company. In 1964 University of Petroleum and Minerals was established, with the aim of producing Saudis with the skills to manage this company in the future. However, Yamani's plans for increased Saudi control of oil resources were only made public in 1968 during a speech at the American University in Beirut (AUB), where he talked of 'participation' as opposed to nationalisation. Following OPEC negotiations in 1972, the Saudi government bought 25 % owenership of Aramco. From 1974, Saudi participation increased to 60% and in 1976 total Saudi ownership was agreed, with payments completed in 1980.

As Oil Minister of oil rich Saudi Arabia, Yamani took an important role in the development of the newly created OPEC. From early on, Yamani is noted as having a 'moderate' oil policy. Faced with the 1967 Arab-Israeli War Yamani spoke against the use of an Arab oil embargo, to the displeasure of Israel's Arab neighbours and Iraq in particular. The action was ineffective, although the experience led to a consideration of the possible political benefits of an Arab-only oil organisation. Yamani took the lead role in the development of this idea and in 1968 the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries was joined by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya. Several other countries joined in 1970 and Egypt, Syria and militant Iraq joined in the early 1970s.


1973 oil crisis

Following the humiliation of the 1967 Six-Day War, demands for the use of oil as a political weapon intensified throughout the Arab world, with the primary aim of changing the apparent pro-Israeli policy of the US government. Overwhelming pressure for Saudi Arabia to support such action resulted from the renewal of Arab-Israeli conflict on October 1973 with the Yom Kippur War. Yamani took the initiative and planned to initially drop oil production by ten percent alongside other OPEC members, followed by five percent reductions each month. This proposal was designed to gain the necessary attention from the West while preventing the tremendous damage that could be caused by more radical reductions likely to be advanced by the other OPEC members.

On 16 October the six Persian Gulf member countries met in Kuwait and took the decision to raise oil prices from US$3 to $5.12. This was the first time the producer countries had independently set the price of their oil. The next day the 10 OAPEC members agreed to Shiekh Yamani's moderate production cutback proposals. An embargo to countries seen as 'hostile' was also recommended but not enforced, although by 22 October all OAPEC countries had placed an embargo on the hostile nations of the United States and the Netherlands. Those countries considered friendly would not be directly affected by either decision although 'neutral' countries would.

The production cutbacks, increased to twenty five percent in November, severely affected the economic health of all Western powers. To gain political support, Yamani travelled through Europe, the US and Japan with Algerian oil minister Belaid Abdesselam. Both Yamani and OPEC became well known in the West for the first time, Yamani described as 'the man of the moment' in Newsweek International's 24 December 1973 cover article. US attempts at bringing together a consumer's cartel failed and the EEC and Japan called on Israel to withdraw from Arab territories occupied in 1967.

On 22 December the Gulf members of OPEC met again in Tehran where the Shah, backed by the other militant states, urged that the price of oil be risen to over $20 a barrel. Yamani opposed this extreme increase but could not contact Saudi Arabia from Tehran. Fearing a split in OPEC, Yamani decided on a compromise that put oil at $11.65, four times the price of a barrel prior to October 16.

Following progress with Arab-Israeli disengagement agreements, a decision was taken to end the embargo, which was formally lifted on March 17.

Saudi Arabia continued to push for price reductions from the $11.65 level, opposed by other OPEC members. This increasingly became seen as a pro-American stance by the other producers although defended by Yamani as a safer option for the world economy. Saudi Arabia has also been criticised for using its position to force its own interests, as a lower price enables the country to keep a high market share and discourages research into alternative energy sources, suiting their long-term production capacity.

Death of King Faisal

On 25 March 1975 King Faisal was shot dead by Faisal bin Musad, the King's nephew. The young prince had joined a Kuwaiti delegation, led by oil minister Abdul Mutaleb Kazimi, which Yamani had escorted to the King's office. Yamani stood next to the King when the shots were fired and, after interrogation, it was discovered that Faisal bin Musad also believed Yamani to have been shot dead in the attack.

King Faisal's death led to widespread predictions that Yamani would soon be replaced as oil minister. Faisal and Yamani are known to have had an especially strong relationship, with the King holding Yamani's opinion in high regard, even above other members of the royal family. This, along with his success before the Western media, fostered jealousy, especially amongst the Sudairi Seven and Fahd, to be Crown Prince under Faisal's frail and uninterested successor, King Khaled.

Yamani, however, continued in his role as oil minister for another eleven years after the death of Faisal, possibly buoyed by his prominent international position.

Hostage incident

On 21 December 1975 Zaki Yamani was taken hostage by terrorist Carlos (the Jackal), in Vienna, Austria, where he was attending a meeting at the OPEC headquarters. Carlos planned to take over the conference by force and kidnap all eleven oil ministers in attendance and hold them for ransom, with the exception of Yamani and Iran's Jamshid Amuzegar, who were to be executed.

Carlos led his six-person team past two police officers in the building's lobby and up to the first floor, where a police officer, an Iraqi plain clothes security guard and a young Libyan economist were shot dead.

As Carlos entered the conference room and fired shots in the ceiling, the delegates ducked under the table. The terrorists searched for Yamani and then divided the sixty-three hostages into groups. Delegates of friendly countries were moved toward the door, 'neutrals' were placed in the centre of the room and the 'enemies' were placed along the back wall, next to a stack of explosives. This last group included those from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and the UAE. Carlos demanded a bus to be provided to take his group and the hostages to the airport, where a DC-9 airplane and crew would be waiting. In the meantime, Carlos briefed Yamani on his plan to eventually fly to Aden, where Yamani and the Iranian minister would be killed.

The bus was provided the following morning at 6.40am as requested and forty-two hostages were boarded and taken to the airport. The group were airborne just after 9.00am, and explosives placed under Yamani's seat. The plane first stopped in Algiers, where Carlos left the plane to meet with the Algierian Foreign minister. All thirty non-Arab hostages were released, excluding Amuzegar.

The refueled plane left for Tripoli where there was trouble in acquiring another plane as had been planned. Carlos decided to instead return to Algiers and change to a Boeing 707, a plane large enough to fly to Baghdad non-stop. Ten more hostages were released before leaving.

With only ten hostages remaining, the Boeing 707 left for Algiers and arrived at 3.40am. After leaving the plane to meet with the Algerians, Carlos talked with his colleagues in the front cabin of the plane and then told Yamani and Amouzegar that they would be released at mid-day. Carlos was then called from the plane a second time and returned after two hours.

At this second meeting it is believed that Carlos held a phone conversation with Algerian President Houari Boumédienne who informed Carlos that the oil ministers' deaths would result in an attack on the plane. Yamani's biography suggests that the Algerians had used a covert listening device on the front of the aircraft to overhear the earlier conversation between the terrorists, and found that Carlos had in fact still planned to murder the two oil ministers. Boumédienne must also have offered Carlos asylum at this time and possibly financial compensation for failing to complete his assignment.

On returning to the plane Carlos stood before Yamani and Amuzegar and expressed his regret at not being able to murder them. He then told the hostages that he and his comrades would leave the plane after which they would all be free. After waiting for the terrorists to leave, Yamani and the other nine hostages followed and were taken to the airport by Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The terrorists were present in the next lounge and Khalid, the Palestinian, asked to speak to Yamani. As his hand reached for his coat, Khalid was surrounded by guards and a gun was found concealed in a holster.

Some time after the attack it was revealed by Carlos' accomplices that the operation was commanded by Wadi Haddad, a Palestinian terrorist and founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It was also claimed that the idea and funding came from an Arab president, widely thought to be Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Continuation of Saudi oil policy

At an OPEC meeting in September 1975 in Vienna, Saudi Arabia continued to oppose sharp increases in the price of oil. Yamani was required to gain approval from Crown Prince Fahd for any increase to be agreed in excess of 5%. Unable to contact Saudi Arabia from Vienna, Yamani left the meeting and flew to London on his private jet in order to find a telephone. This incident was widely publicized.

At an OPEC meeting in May 1976 in Bali, Iran and seven other members advocated a 20% increase in oil prices to match inflation although Saudi Arabia favoured a six-month price freeze. The Iraqi oil minister fiercely criticised Yamani and Saudi Arabia for pro-Western policy which led to Yamani leaving the meeting and demanding an apology. This was settled and the six-month price freeze was agreed.

Six months later OPEC assembled in Doha and Saudi Arabia again faced pressure to raise prices. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the only two member countries not to agree to a 10% increase in January 1977 followed by an additional 5% increase in July. This led to a period of two-tier pricing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE charging $12.09 per barrel and the other OPEC countries $12.70 per barrel. In July 1977 an OPEC meeting in Stockholm ended two-tier pricing, with prices re-unified at $12.70.

In 1979 the Iranian Revolution resulted in the 1979 energy crisis. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members managed to greatly increase production to replace that lost from Iran but this did not prevent panic buying of oil. OPEC also maintained an official price although the spot market led to oil prices being negotiated upward. Yamani claimed that Saudi Arabia would not sell over the OPEC price but would remain committed to the reduction of oil prices. He also predicted another energy crisis to occur in the mid-1990s.

Removal from office

The panic buying during the 1979 energy crisis led to increased oil stocks which began to flood the market and resulted in price wars between oil producing nations competing for market share. This in turn led to reduced income for Saudi Arabia. On 13 June 1982, in the course of this downturn, King Khaled died of a heart attack and Crown Prince Fahd became King and Prime Minister, resulting in renewed rumours of Yamani's imminent removal from office.

The beginning of Fahd's rule was marred by the reduced oil income caused by the 1980s oil glut and ambitious development plans had to be rolled back. The restricted national budget also encouraged the use of oil in barter deals. In 1984 Saudi Arabia purchased ten Boeing 747s to join the fleet of Saudia Airlines using 34.5 million barrels (5,490,000 m3) of oil. Yamani is known to have strongly objected to this subordination of the country's OPEC quota and warned Fahd of the effect on oil prices. He was, however, unsuccessful in stopping the deal.

At an OPEC meeting in October 1986 Fahd sent his oil minister a cable demanding Saudi Arabia's oil quota to be increased and the price of oil set at $18, which Yamani refused to sign. Yamani's biographer suggests that Fahd did not understand basic economic principles, although the relationship between the King and Yamani had already greatly deteriorated by this time; apparently Yamani had begun to remove files from his government office in 1985.

On 29 October 1986 a brief announcement was made on Saudi television that Yamani had been dismissed. Detailed information of events is not known as Yamani refuses to discuss his last years in office or his relationship with King Fahd and the Sudairi Seven. Fahd's jealousy and personal dislike of Yamani, the problems of the oil glut, and Yamani's questioning of barter deals may all have contributed to his dismissal. For some weeks after Yamani was prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia. He was replaced as Minister of Petroleum by Hisham Nazer, previously Minister of Planning.

Other activities

In July 1982 Yamani founded Investcorp, private equity firm, with several other oil ministers and well-known financiers. The Firm's initial investments included Tiffany & Co., Breguet, a Swiss watch maker, and Chaumet, a French jewellers. Yamani, himself known to be a watch lover, also became majority shareholder of Vacheron Constantin in 1987. In 1996 Yamani's shares were then sold to Vendôme Luxury Group, owned by Richemont. During the eleven years of his ownership, watch production increased from 3,614 to 11,019.

In 1988 Yamani established the Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation under The Yamani Cultural and Charitable Foundation, which endeavours to preserve and publish historically important Islamic works.

In 1990 Yamani founded the Centre for Global Energy Studies, a London-based market analysis group claiming to provide objective information on energy issues. Board members have included Edward Heath, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Denis Healey, all friends of Yamani.

With the death of King Fahd in August 2005 some feel it is still possible that Yamani will return to the Saudi Government under King Abdullah, most likely as an ambassador, but sources close to Yamani indicate that it is highly unlikely.

Yamani is fluent in Arabic, English and French.

His negotiation style, remarked on by no less than Kissinger, was to wine and dine other dignitaries until the point of fullness and lethargy, before beginning protracted negotiations (Reader's Digest, circa 1970).

See also

  • The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power

Notes and references

1Aburish, Saïd K. 1994: The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House of Saud. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-2040-2
p. 7 "Oil Minister Yamani, whose moderate oil-pricing policies made him the most unpopular man in his country..."

External links


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